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Salvadoran Poet Roque Dalton’s Murder – Case Closed

SAN SALVADOR, Jan 10 2012 (IPS) - It was the first time that a Salvadoran judge was holding a hearing to decide whether the case of Roque Dalton, a poet murdered 36 years ago, should go to trial. But the hopes of his family were dashed.

Magistrate’s court number 9 in San Salvador ruled Monday Jan. 9 not to proceed in the case against former guerrilla leaders Jorge Meléndez and Joaquín Villalobos, whom Dalton’s family allege were responsible for the May 1975 murder. Judge Romeo Giammattei finally declared the case closed.

The Attorney General’s Office (FGR) said the 15-year statute of limitations for the prosecution of common crimes had lapsed.

But the poet’s two sons, Jorge and Juan José Dalton, argue their father’s killing should be treated as a crime against humanity, which has no statute of limitations, in contrast with ordinary murders.

“We have been demanding justice for 36 years, and today’s (Monday’s) resolution is a scandalous miscarriage of justice,” journalist Juan José Dalton told IPS after the hearing.

“For the first time, we sat down with a judge at a hearing of my father’s case. This was a historic occasion, but it only lasted three hours and then the case was closed,” he said.

The FGR argued that the poet’s murder was an ordinary crime, and said that since El Salvador has not signed the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the International Criminal Court (ICC) which has jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, the Dalton case cannot be tried in El Salvador as such.

Instead of carrying out an investigation and bringing charges, the FGR asked the judge to dismiss the case once and for all.

“This is a demonstration of the extent of impunity, showing that the Salvadoran justice system is corrupt and flawed, and that it is on the side of the criminals rather than on the side of the victims,” complained Jorge Dalton, a film maker.

The family of the most distinguished poet in El Salvador’s history say that Villalobos and Meléndez, who in May 1975 belonged to the leadership of the leftwing People’s Revolutionary Army (ERP), ordered Roque Dalton’s execution.

The poet was also a member of the ERP, which later joined four other leftwing groups to found the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), which waged guerrilla warfare against government forces from 1980 to 1992, and became a legal political party after the signing of the peace deal that put an end to the civil war.

Apparently, Dalton was accused by his ERP comrades of insubordination and spying for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). He was found guilty in a “revolutionary trial” in which Villalobos and Meléndez allegedly participated and he was killed in circumstances that remain obscure.

Villalobos is now an anti-drugs adviser to the government of conservative Mexican President Felipe Calderón, and Meléndez is head of the Secretariat for Vulnerability Affairs in the Salvadoran government of President Mauricio Funes of the FMLN, who took office in July 2009.

Only Meléndez showed up for the hearing; Villalobos was represented by his lawyer, Rigoberto Ortiz.

“So many lies and falsehoods have been told… This could be part of some political plan,” Meléndez told the press, as he entered the court room.

Born in 1935, Dalton was part of a distinguished generation of Latin American writers and poets that included Mario Benedetti and Eduardo Galeano of Uruguay, Juan Gelman and Julio Cortázar of Argentina, Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru and Gabriel García Márquez of Colombia.

His most important works include “La ventana en el rostro” (The Window in My Face, 1961), “Taberna y otros lugares” (Tavern and Other Places) for which he won the 1969 Casa de las Américas Prize, “Miguel Mármol” (1972), “Pobrecito poeta que era yo…” (Poor Little Poet That I Was, 1975), “Poemas clandestinos” (Clandestine Poems, 1975) and “Historias prohibidas del pulgarcito” (Forbidden Stories of Tom Thumb, 1975).

Dalton’s remains were never found. However, in their lawsuit his sons mentioned two possible places: a house in the Santa Anita neighbourhood to the east of San Salvador, and a volcanic rock crater called El Playón, in the southeastern province of La Libertad, where rightwing death squads used to dump the bodies of leftists they killed during the civil war.

In May 2010, the Dalton family asked the FGR to investigate the case, but it did not do so. They also called on President Funes to dismiss Meléndez, who was then the director of Civil Protection.

Funes did not fire Meléndez, however, but promoted him to Secretary for Vulnerability Affairs.

In August 2011, the Dalton family once again asked the FGR whether or they would investigate the case. But they received no reply.

Finally in November last year they took the case to the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR).

According to observers, the closure of the case by the Salvadoran justice system could be an element towards the case being accepted by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, based in Costa Rica.

“In this country, the laws are not on the side of truth, but of impunity,” said Juan José Dalton.

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